Corrections or additions?

This article by Nicole Plett was prepared for the February 13,

2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Sex Between Soft Covers

Her gaze came back to his. For a moment she saw

a question in the depths of his eyes. Then his head dipped and his

mouth captured hers in a searing kiss. An ageless, timeless

communication

of man to woman. A fire-hot, molten revival of life. A circling,

waving

tsunami of need pouring from one to the other and back in a ceaseless

wave of desire, passion, rapture.

— Shirley Hailstock, `More Than Gold’

Extra-marital romance for workers comes in all shapes

and sizes. It can be as short and sweet as a parking lot kiss or as

lavish as a thinly disguised team-building week at a four-star

Caribbean

resort. Yet for thousands of women, some men — and even a

smattering

of couples — romance comes wrapped between soft covers for an

economical $5.99.

"A great read with a guaranteed happy ending is the perfect

antidote

for these uncertain times," writes Linda Gill, publisher of

Arabesque

multicultural romance novels. "Romance offers hope at just the

right time." And Plainsboro writer Shirley Hailstock couldn’t

agree more.

Hailstock is the enterprising author of 12 romances featuring smart,

professional — and beautiful — African-American characters.

Her latest title, "His 1-800-WIFE," from Arabesque Books,

is soon to be followed in August by "Family Affair." The

two-time

contributor to the U.S. 1 Summer Fiction Issue, including the 1997

debut issue which saw her romantic short story, "Remember Me,"

her rising celebrity has brought her to the pages of the Philadelphia

Inquirer and the New York Times.

In November Hailstock became president-elect of the Romance Writers

of America, a national organization of 8,400 members. She is past

president of the group’s New Jersey Chapter that brings together 75

of its most active members at monthly meetings at the Holiday Inn,

Jamesburg. The organization reports that romance generated $1.37

billion

in sales in 2000.

At home on a flowered chintz sofa, dressed in a simple rose-colored

sweater set and black slacks, Shirley Hailstock radiates good humor.

With natural good looks that belie her status as the mother of two

young adults, she is a woman whose conversation bubbles over into

laughter at the slightest encouragement.

She says that although it’s true that romance readers are guaranteed

happy endings, this doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of conflict —

and extra-marital sex — along the way.

"My characters don’t spend a lot of time getting beauty

treatments,"

says Hailstock. "For one thing, they’re too busy" — often

dodging bullets and booby traps set by international assassins or

running a restaurant — "and their beauty comes naturally!"

In her suspense romance "More Than Gold," Hailstock tells

the story of Morgan Kirkwood, a gritty professional woman in her early

30s who grew up on the streets. A former Olympic gold medal gymnast,

she’s still fit and capable on the balance beam. But 12 years after

Morgan performed an act of valor for her country while competing in

Seoul, her past comes back to haunt her in the form of a serious but

dashing CIA agent, Jack Temple. Sustained by the memory of their

single

kiss 12 year ago, the 30-something couple is ready for more than

kissing

now.

Can a simple kiss be so memorable, we ask the author.

"Absolutely! Isn’t it always?," she replies with enthusiasm.

"A romance is a relationship story and it’s a developing

relationship.

This is one man, one woman. They don’t sleep around. They don’t have

sex with more than one partner in the books." She says her

characters’

frequent and heated tumbles between the sheets (although these tumbles

also take place in SUVs and at the remote campsite where the couple

are dodging criminals and assassins), is part of a growing

relationship

between two characters, which is a committed one by the end of the

book.

"I do want to stress that these characters are learning about

each other," she says, "learning to trust each other, learning

what love is about. Even if there’s some other external problem that’s

going on, at the basis of a romance is the romance."

"And I think when they actually do get to the sex act in the story

— I mean sometimes the foreplay has been going on forever and

it’s like `It’s time!’ — then that’s a commitment and there’s

no going back at that point. And I think that’s why you can have the

sex act in the book, because the characters change. They become

different

people from who they were pages before, and they have to go

forward."

"So if a developing relationship doesn’t call for sex, then it

shouldn’t be in the book. We don’t have characters who just have sex

for sex’s sake. And we don’t have rape either," she says.

Unlike her fictional heroines who tend to live in luxurious

surroundings,

some bedecked with fresh flowers, home is a functional space for

Hailstock

and her children, Ashleigh and Christopher Coles, ages 18 and 17.

Each teenager will graduate from West Windsor-Plainsboro high schools

this May.

It’s not all satin and roses for Hailstock. Divorced for 16 years,

there’s not a lot of room in Hailstock’s life for dating and romance

these days. "The real first time I fell in love I was in

college,"

she says, " — it was fun, but it was very hard to get over.

I could have spent the rest of my life with him, but it didn’t

happen."

In addition to her busy writing career, she is employed as manager

of sales systems for Bracco Diagnostics Inc.

Dominating her living space is Hailstock’s piano and her extensive

collection of albums — including lots of ’60s favorites. A woman

of no small ambition, whose youthful goal was to join the space

program,

Hailstock learned piano as an adult and is working toward the day

she can play Gershwin’s "Fascinating’ Rhythm" like a pro.

"People have asked me whether my life is as exciting as the

characters

in my novels, and I tell them, `Oh absolutely!’ I fly helicopters,

and I hang from tall buildings — it’s just one exciting rush after

another,’" she says with lighthearted irony. "It isn’t quite

like that, because you do have to write. And writing takes a lot of

energy and a lot of time. So a lot of my life is sitting in a chair

and doing the work. And I maintain another job, so the time to write

is precious and short."

Hailstock was introduced to the romance novel by a roommate at Howard

University who littered their dorm room with romance novels. The first

time she sat down and read one cover-to-cover, she became a romance

enthusiast. But it wasn’t until the 1980s that Hailstock made the

transition from reader to writer. She completed her first novel on

a dare.

"I was on the subway with a friend in New York, and she asked

me what I was reading, and I showed her my book, and I said, `I could

do this,’" she recounts. "And she said, `I dare you.’ So I

told her `All right, I’ll go home, I’ll write it this weekend.

"That was a really stupid comment," Hailstock continues.

"I

thought it was going to be easy to write, but it was hard, very very

hard to write. But I started, and I kept going, and it took me a

year."

That book was called "Ice Maiden" and it remains unpublished.

"I wrote it longhand on yellow paper, because I didn’t have a

decent typewriter. Then I bought a Selectric typewriter, but half

the book was already written on yellow paper and the other half was

typed. And I wasn’t a very good typist. So then I had to type the

beginning, and then I had to re-type the end, because the page count

was off."

Hailstock’s fourth completed manuscript was the first she sold

(although

she has since sold her third), "but the first two have never sold

and they never will," she says lightheartedly — "they

are terrible!"

"Whispers of Love," a suspense romance, was the book that

brought Hailstock into print and the suspense genre has become

something

of a trademark for her. Published in 1994, the book is in its fourth

printing and has a sales record comparable to an Oprah Winfrey

selection

— some 50,000 copies. It was optioned but never made into a film.

And since "Whispers of Love," there’s been no looking back

for Hailstock. She has released one, two, or three titles each year

since 1994.

The second oldest of seven children, Hailstock’s parents came from

South Carolina and the family moved first to Washington, D.C., and

then, when she was 8, to Buffalo, New York. When she was 10, her

mother

died, and she had plenty of responsibility for four younger sisters

and a younger brother. Her father, who remarried twice, worked as

a crane operator in a steel mill.

An avid reader as a girl, Hailstock remembers devouring series of

teen dating novels, but she never read a Nancy Drew mystery, never

heard of Laura Ingalls, and she never read "Harriet the Spy,"

all perennial favorites of her colleagues in the Romance Writers of

America.

"Then in high school I went through my `12-pound books,’"

she says with a hearty laugh " — they had to weight 12 pounds

in order for me to read them. I read `Exodus,’ I read everything that

Leon Uris wrote, I read every word of James Michener’s `Hawaii’ —

and I didn’t skip the part about the island forming. In high school

we also had to read `Moby Dick,’ and I read every word of that, too

— I didn’t skip the part about the whales!"

As a young adult, an influential early novel was Stephen King’s,

"The

Stand." "It’s a definite good versus evil book," she says

with relish. "And it’s one of those things that taught me that

no matter what you do in life, you’re going to have to take a stand.

You’re going to have to be on one side of an issue or the other side,

you’re not going to be able to stay in the middle."

In high school, her chemistry teacher was also a mentor. "I really

enjoyed chemistry, it was one of my very favorite subjects —

English

was not my favorite subject, chemistry was. So when I went to college

I thought I’d study chemistry because I really wanted to join the

space program."

Hailstock wrote for her high school newspaper and year book, and wrote

original plays for school assemblies — "but that wasn’t

writing,

that was fun!" she says, with laughter. She stayed with chemistry

in college, earning her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Howard

University in Washington, D.C.

"I thought I’d get out of college and get a job working for NASA

or a chemical company, but it was 1970 — a really bad time to

graduate. Downsizing wasn’t a word then, but we had freezes on

salaries,

all the airlines were in trouble, there were people with PhDs driving

taxi cabs. I couldn’t find a job, so I went back to school in

accounting

and got a degree in accounting.

She spent more than 20 years in accounting and, after moving to New

Jersey in 1975, earned an MBA in chemical marketing from Fairleigh

Dickinson University.

Hailstock has written straight, historical, and suspense

romances but it’s for the latter she’s best known. "Romantic

suspenses

tend to be very heavily plotted, very strong books, and I think that’s

why people remember them more. I love the suspense, it adds so much

to the story," she says. "I like creating and plotting. The

writing is much more interesting than the actual plotting, but I don’t

get to do the writing unless I know how the plot works!"

For her book "More Than Gold," Hailstock says her conflicted

danger-prone lovers, Morgan Kirkwood and Jack Temple, "just popped

up." "In fact," she says with surprise, "Morgan popped

up first, and then I needed a guy for her who was as strong as she

was — she was so strong. So I had to go get Jack. And he just

showed up one day in my head."

Morgan Kirkwood derives her strength from teen years when she was

homeless on the streets of D.C. "I’ve never known anyone like

her," says the author. "But I know some kind of experience

you have that’s extremely hard — you’ll never forget. So Morgan

would never forget being on the street."

Readers who know Hailstock and her family are amused to discover that

in "More Than Gold" two powerful characters share her

children’s

names: CIA director Brian Ashleigh and FBI director Clarence

Christopher

— "and I gave them equal jobs!" she says with pride.

Hailstock says her readers come from all walks of life, but all share

a sense of loyalty to their favorite writer. She receives letters

all the time, and she also knows there are six states in the U.S.

from which she has never had any fan mail.

"After a book comes out, you get a lot of mail very quickly, but

I always get at least a letter a week," she says. Many share a

familiar pattern.

"First of all, they always want to know about the other characters

in the book. Then they want to know who would I cast in the movie.

Some ask, `When are you going to make a movie of this book’ —

as if I had $10 million lying around for a movie!"

"They tell you a lot about their life stories — and about

the men in their lives. And it isn’t always the best. I mean the

heroes

of the books are a lot larger than life. So someone will write, `This

is the guy I want, but the guy I have, there’s nothing wrong with

him.’"

Do couples share the books? Not often, she reports. "One time

I did get a letter from a woman who said her husband read one of my

books because he wanted to know what so fascinating to her that she

just kept reading."

Hailstock still finds time for her own pleasure reading, favoring

Dean Koontz, Clive Custler, James Patterson, and Sandra Brown. "In

romance, Anne Stewart is a favorite of mine," she says. Although

she doesn’t particularly like literary fiction, she’s impressed by

the number of new readers brought into the fold by the Oprah Winfrey

Book Club.

"Oprah had done wonders, absolute wonders," says Hailstock,

bringing out her Romance Writers of America marketing acumen. "But

I don’t think Oprah has done anything for romance at all. It was

definitely

fine before her, and since she came out with her book club, our market

share has gone up."

"I think the people who are reading books Oprah recommends are

people who may not have been reading before, and now they are. But

the people who were reading romances, they may read an Oprah book

now, but it’s not going to stop them reading romances."

The Oprah Book Club press runs of 450,000 copies caused a sensation

in literary publishing, whereas most romance titles have an initial

print run of 400,000. Hailstock also notes that while Oprah has the

power to make a single title a best-seller, that author will not see

comparable sales for her future books.

"But a lot of Oprah’s books have terrible endings. I’ve read a

lot of them, because I keep hoping that I’ll get a good one. I don’t

think a book has to have a happy ending, but I would like it to have

some kind of lesson learned. And a lot of those people in the books

don’t learn a lesson. These characters have no inner thoughts like:

`No matter what has happened to me, the world’s not going to beat

me, I’m going to win.’ They just don’t have anything like that."

So with workers feeling uneasy and uncertain about the new adversities

of these past months, romance may be just the right prescription.

For a cheap date, why not curl up with a Hailstock story — and

a friend.

— Nicole Plett

Shirley Hailstock, Rider University, Sweigart Hall

Auditorium, Route 206, Lawrenceville, 609-895-5781. Romance Writer’s

Workshop. Free. On the web: www.geocities.com/shailstock. Monday,

February 18, 7 p.m.


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